MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/23 June) – When the Supreme Court issued the order for the military to produce “missing” University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and Bulacan farmer Manuel Merino, it is rightly presumed to have done so based on credible evidence that soldiers were responsible for their involuntary disappearance. Hence, military spokesperson Commodore Miguel Jose Rodriguez could only say “we’re in a bind” insisting they did not have the three persons in [their] custody.
Cadapan, Empeño and Merino were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan, on June 26, 2006 by armed men and turned up in a military camp in the province after a few months.
Knowing the military culture of covering each other’s tracks, which is considered no different from covering each other’s backs in battle, Rodriguez’ statement was expected. Even if he may have obtained the sordid details of what had happened to the trio, the time-honored code of silence proved too strong to defy. Personal conscience is no reason to compromise matters the military considers as exclusively its turf. Not even the sight of grieving mothers may make a good soldier depart from this amoral but necessary rule.
For many years, such stoicism has often marked the attitude of soldiers tagged as responsible for the involuntary disappearances of civilians, usually activists and suspected rebels. In case the kin of the victims seek legal reprieve through a petition for the writ of habeas corpus or a writ of amparo, experience shows that once the military respondents start denying responsibility they will stick to the denial no matter what. One may find the stonewalling contemptible and irritating, but it’s their only weapon against overwhelming evidence.
This was the situation during my days as a human rights worker covering Northern Mindanao where our office handled close to a hundred cases of forced disappearances. Lucky were the victims whose presence in secret detention places, euphemistically called safehouses, was acknowledged by the military. They returned home alive or were at least turned over to regular detention centers. As for the others whose existence was denied, we can only speculate about their fate.
Worse, there seems to be no way for the court to exact compliance from the military even if evidence clearly points to their involvement.
Stonewalling however may prove politically costly in the end. The military establishment as a whole cannot forever hide behind this shield and expect its image and credibility to come out untainted. By ignoring orders of the court the military is giving the impression that it thinks of itself as above the law – a fourth branch of government, some pundits would say – and creating more questions in the minds of people.
Questions will remain why incidents like the abduction of Cadapan et al. have happened and why they have not surface up to now. Questions will remain why the military higher-ups appear to have condoned the ignoble actions of their subordinates. Questions will remain why the military has defied the highest court of the land. Has it escaped the discreet minds of the generals that most people know what to believe between the evidence-based court order and the casual sounding “we’re in a bind”?
Meanwhile, some mothers out there are still grieving for their lost sons and daughters who, like the other victims before them, may never come home. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])